Dear Finance Minister,
One of the great injustices in the world is insufficient appreciation of the importance of the union budget. Hardly anyone listens to the budget speech and the only thing most people are bothered about is whether their taxes have gone up or down. Nobody, apart from economists and the media, gets worked up over the fiscal deficit. Most people have no clue about the difference between the primary and revenue deficits. Why, just the other day I came across a guy who said he was under the impression that GDP stood for Glorious Drinking Party, which is why he thought we were celebrating India’s having the world’s highest GDP growth rate.
It’s all very disheartening, especially because the task of a finance minister is by no means an easy one. You have to take into account the incessant demands of the middle classes for tax concessions, of the masses for more welfare, of businessmen for more incentives. You have to listen politely to the contradictory advice dished out with reckless abandon by economists, read the fulminations of pundits in the op-ed pages, all the while keeping a wary eye on the rating agencies. And of course, you have a duty to brighten the prospects of your party being re-elected in the imminent state elections.
Furthermore, you have to raise revenues to cater to all these demands while doing your best to avoid increasing taxes and keeping the fiscal deficit under control. You have, in short, the unenviable task of squaring a circle.
But perhaps I can be of assistance. No, no, there is no need to recoil with horror---I am not going to lecture you on asset monetisation and privatisation and listing bonds abroad and so on. But I do have a modest proposal which will serve the twin purposes of both popularising the budget and earning trillions in revenue in the process. The aim is to spread knowledge about the budget to the masses, kindle their interest in it, while at the same time raising funds to meet development and welfare needs. Why, you could even cut taxes.
Simply put, my plan envisages allowing people to bet on the budget. They could bet on what the fiscal deficit could be as a percentage of GDP, what the revenue deficit should be, on the growth in tax revenues envisaged, on budgeted growth in capital expenditure, on the level of internal and extra-budgetary resources, on whether the level of deductions under Section 80 C should be increased, on whether the standard deduction will go up and by how much. In short, they could bet on any number in the budget. Indeed, they could even bet on who you will quote in your speech—Thiruvalluvar or the Mahatma or Tagore. But we shouldn’t allow betting on unrelated things, such as how long your speech is.
The best way to collect these bets is through the post offices spread across the length and breadth of the country. Postmen can readily be turned into bet collectors---it’s an easy job and they are likely to be familiar with the process, since many of them must be queuing up to get lottery tickets every week to supplement their meagre income.
Thanks to the marvels of technology, the bets placed can instantly be collated at a central office. On Budget Day, a certain percentage, say 25 percent, will be deducted from the corpus and the balance distributed to the winning tickets. What’s more, the winners could also be taxed---just as gains from horse racing and other games of skill are taxed now. Keep the minimum betting amount low, so as to increase volumes, and you will be able to garner trillions in revenues.
Within weeks of implementing this grand scheme, people all over the country will be going around with the budget papers in their hands, trying to figure out what the heck it all means. Within months, they would know all about the types of deficits, about the amounts allocated to various departments, about the rates of growth of taxes, about the level of disinvestment receipts, even about section 80JJA.
And you can rest assured that on Budget Day the entire nation will listen with bated breath to every word you utter. In fact, they will study every word you say closely throughout the year, so that they can place the right bets when the budget comes around.
I think PMBJP (Prime Minister’s Betting Janata Programme) would be the right name for this wonderful scheme. And the system could easily be extended to the state budgets, after changing the name to CMBJP, of course.
As for those who may have objections to betting, think of the huge increase in financial literacy such a system would lead to. Think of it as an educational project on which the public would only be too willing to pay.
It will be wonderful if you introduce this scheme in your forthcoming budget. If you do, I am certain you will reserve your place in history as the most innovative finance minister, not just in India, but all over the world.
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